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Monday, October 24, 2011

Hollowmen First Chapter

Hollowmen (The Hollows #2) is still with the editor, but it should be back soon. Until then, I'm giving you a sneak peak at the book with an excerpt from it. Keep in my mind that this version isn't fully edited. So, here it is:

            “Remember us - if at all - not as lost
            Violent souls, but only
            As the hollow men”
                        - T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men,” 1925

1.

I was dying. Or at least I really hoped I was.

During the operations, I often screamed for my own death, begging them to just hurry up and kill me. They didn’t, though. They planned on keeping me alive for as long as they could, dissecting me over and over again.

I’m not even sure what they were looking for, and honestly, I don’t think they knew either. From what Dr. Daniels had told me, the doctors and scientists at the quarantine were no closer to finding a cure for the lyssavirus, despite all examinations and tests and vivisection they’d performed on me.

Daniels was the doctor I dealt with the most. He did the day-to-day things with me and drew blood, occasionally gave me shots, but nothing too terrible. All the truly gruesome experiments and surgeries were left with a nameless, faceless mob of butchers.

Even though Daniels repeatedly assured me that they were surgeons, some of the finest that had ever practiced medicine, I wasn’t convinced. Any doctor that had taken the Hippocratic Oath couldn’t act like they did.

In the night, they would come into my little white room – a windowless cell that was a cross between a lab and a prison. The surgeons always came when I was sleeping based on some theory I was more complacent when I was drowsy, but I don’t think that was true.

Two or three large men would come to get me, their faces blocked by surgical masks. They didn’t need them, not yet, so I can only assume they wore them to keep themselves hidden. They wanted to make this as impersonal as possible. To them, I was just a lab rat, and they didn’t want to humanize the situation with introductions.

I tried to fight them when they came, kicking and hitting as best I could, but I was growing weak. Everything they did to me, it was killing me, even if went much slower than I’d have liked. Almost all my bones were visible, and my veins popped bright blue through my nearly translucent skin.

I tried to work out – doing pushups, curl ups, jogging in place, anything I could think of to keep my muscles from atrophying. But I was barely eating, I hadn’t seen the sun in I don’t know how long, and I was constantly losing blood and the occasional organ.

When I’d first starting getting carted off to these surgeries, they’d sent four men, and they could barely hold me. But last night, they’d only sent two. 

Lately, I’d been considering not fighting them, since it was a waste of energy. I never prevented anything from happening. I only exhausted myself. So last night, I’d attempted to not fight, to just let them take me away.

But as soon as I saw the operating room, I couldn’t help it. Just the sight of the cold metal, the ultra-bright lights, the scent of the disinfectant, it flipped a switch inside me. It filled me with an all-too familiar terror and a wave of intense nausea passed over me.

Each of the men had taken one of my arms, so my bare feet were still on the ground. As soon as the door swung open to the operating room, I bucked against them. I tried pull back and wiggle out of their grasps, and when that didn’t work, I tried kicking them.

But it didn’t matter. They were stronger than me, and I knew the only reward I’d get for my troubles would be bruises on my arms and legs.

By the time they dragged me over to the table, I’d given up on fighting on them. I’d resorted to begging, trying to appeal to their humanity, even though that had never worked. Anything I said – tears, prayers, bartering, pleading – it all fell on deaf ears.

They took off my shirt, and laid me down on the cold metal table. They held me down until the leather straps were secure. A strap ran across each ankle, thigh, wrist, and either over my ribs or my hips, depending on where they planned to cut. Today, the strap went over my ribs, so that meant my abdomen. 

After that, the two men left, and I waited. Sometimes I’d wait hours, maybe even longer.

But eventually, the operating team came in. Five men, all dressed in white, their operating masks on, their hair in surgical caps, plastic gloves on their hands. It all appeared like any normal surgery save one thing – the patient was completely lucid without any pain medication.

All their surgeries were performed while I was wide awake.

“Please,” I begged them. I strained to lift my head, as if it would somehow be better if I could see what they were doing, if I knew what tools exactly they were using to slice me open. “Please. Don’t do this. You just did this a few weeks ago. I need time to heal. Please. Let’s postpone this.”

But they didn’t talk to me. They never even acknowledged me. They’d talk amongst themselves in low whispers that I couldn’t understand.

“Okay, if we have to do this, can you just give me a warning?” I asked. “Just let me know before you cut me. Give me a second to prepare myself. Okay?”

When nobody said anything, I lay my head back, staring up at the light above me. It was so bright, it nearly blinded me.

Then, without warning, I felt the blade, cold metal slicing through my flesh. I gritted my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut. This wasn’t even the worst of it. Cutting through my skin was the least painful part of what they did.

It was when they were inside, playing with my organs, taking biopsies, squeezing things, investigating, that was impossibly brutal. Sometimes I’d pass out from the pain, but not often enough.

I winced as excruciating pain began in my abdomen. I couldn’t see what they were doing, but my skin was stretching as they pried open the incision they’d just made. In a few moments, they’d be cutting into some organ I probably needed to use to stay alive.

“Oh hell,” I said through gritted teeth, and the pain got worse. I balled up my fists and pulled at the straps as much as I could. Blinding agony ran through me, and I don’t even know what I was saying, but I knew I was screaming.

A blaring siren rang out through the room, and for a moment, I just thought it was a side effect from the pain. But when I opened my eyes, gasping for breath in an attempt to fight the pain, I saw that the room had been bathed in flashing red lights.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

I strained to lift my head, but all I could see where the doctors hovering over me, their hands bloodied from cutting me open. They exchanged looks and mumbled to each other, but they didn’t appear to know what was going on any more than I did.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked again. “Did the zombies get in?”

The surgeon that had cut me pulled his bloodied gloves off, then tossed them on me. I felt them, cold and latex, on my bare skin. Then he turned and walked away. He’d discarded his trash on top of me, and he and the rest of the doctors were leaving.

“Hey!” I shouted after them. “You can’t just leave me here! Unhook my straps! Hey!”

But they didn’t come back, not that I’d really expected them to. There was an emergency, and they didn’t have time to waste on me. I was nothing more than a science experiment to them.

If zombies had broken in – as I strongly suspected – I would be a buffet for them. I was tied down, unable to move, and my stomach had already been cut open, giving them easier access to their favorite foods. If they got in here, they would literally tear me apart.

As much as I wanted to die, or at least I’d rather be dead instead of having these surgeries, I did not want to get ripped to shreds. I wanted a nice quiet fall-asleep-and-never-wake-up kind of death. And if I couldn’t get that, then I had to get out of here.

I pulled at the straps, but they didn’t budge. After surgeries, I always had welts on my skin from fighting against them. The leather was ridiculously strong.

But since I had no other options, I kept straining at them. I tried to arch my back, even though it killed my abdomen, and I rocked the table.

All my struggling didn’t succeed in getting myself free, but it did tip the table over. It clattered to the concrete floor. The metal holding my strap in place was crushed between the table and floor. It wasn’t broken, not yet, but if I could keep rocking the table on it, I might be able to get the one hand free.

In order to do that, I had to smash my left hand painfully against the floor, but it was the only way I knew to get out. So I rocked backward, almost tipping the table again, but it steadied itself on the side.

Finally, the metal hook bent far enough that I could slide the wrist strap out. The leather was still around my wrist, like a bracelet, but I didn’t care as long as my hand was free.

With my free hand, I reached up to undo the strap on my right wrist. That sounded simpler than it actually was. I had to twist my freshly sliced open abdomen and stretch and strain. I ended up crying out as I undid my other hand.

The other straps were quicker and easier, and once I finally had them all off, I got to my feet. I took a look at my incision. It only ran about three inches across, so it wasn’t the worst they’d done, but blood was seeping out of it down my stomach and pants.

I couldn’t walk around like that, not with zombies attracted to the scent of blood. There was a needle and thread on the smaller table with all the surgical tools. The butchers always sewed me up when they were done, so that was something, I guess.

My hands were shaking, and my left hand was sore and scraped up from hitting the floor. Plus, I’d never been that great of a seamstress. But I couldn’t just walk around like this, and I was certain the doctors weren’t coming back.

I threaded the needle and braced myself on the tray. Fortunately, all the surgeries had raised my pain tolerance quite a bit. Unfortunately, it still hurt like hell when I shoved a needle through my own skin.

I didn’t scream, though. I didn’t want to attract unwanted attention from a zombie. I just clenched my teeth and powered through it. I nearly threw up half way through, but I kept it down.

With slick bloodied hands, I staggered around the room. I found a towel and wiped myself as best I could, then I put on the shirt I’d come in with. I grabbed a scalpel from the tray, since it was the closest thing I had to a weapon, and I left the operating room to find out what was waiting for me.

It was rather anticlimactic, because at first, there was nothing. The third floor – the floor I lived on – was completely deserted. The red flashing lights and warning sirens had scared everyone, as was their job.

The next floor was exactly the same, but I finally found something when I staggered out of the stair well onto the first floor.

That main level was soldiers’ quarters. It was like a dormitory, where they slept and lived. It was dark and appeared to be empty, but as I walked down the hall, one hand running along it for support, I heard something coming from a room.

I didn’t think I could fight, not in this condition with a tiny scalpel, so my best bet to escape a zombie was to take off running. And that’s exactly what I did.

I’d only made it a few steps, my bare feet slapping against the cool tiles, when I heard someone calling my name.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Jenny Pox Giveaway

If you've been following Zombiepalooza this year (or last year for that matter), you'll have seen posts from J. L. Bryan. (Here's last year's bog post if you're interested - here), and this was his post just last week. He's currently on A Parnormals Blog tour promoting his Paranormals Trilogy that includes Jenny Pox, Tommy Nightmare, and Alexander Death. There's actually a ton of cool things going on with the tour, including a giveaway for a free Kindle Fire (which looks REALLY bad ass), so you should totally check out the Paranormals Tour info: here.

Also, in related fun news, Jenny Pox is currently free for the Kindle. Yeah. You heard me. Free. And since Jeff has no control when Amazon makes it not free anymore, you should hurry up and pick it up while you have the chance.

I do have a really awesome giveaway for a signed paperback of Jenny Pox, too, and the details will follow closer to the end of the blog. But first, I figured I ought to tell you what this Jenny Pox is that I keep talking about.

Well, Jenny Pox is one of my favorite books I read last year. In fact, if you exclude graphic and books I've read for the second (or third, or fourth time), then I'd say Jenny Pox was the best book I read last year. Yeah. That's how much I loved it.

Here's the description of it I've pilfered from Amazon: Jenny's touch spreads a deadly supernatural plague. She can't control her power, so she devotes her life to avoiding contact with other people in her small Southern town. Her senior year of high school, she meets the one boy she can touch...but if she's going to be with him, Jenny must learn to use the "Jenny pox" inside her to survive his devious, manipulative girlfriend, who secretly wields the most dangerous power of all. Not recommended for readers under eighteen.*


But here's what I say about it (and then I'll come back to the bolded * part in a minute): It's a really good book. I stayed up all night reading it. I met Jeff (or J.L. Bryan to you non-D-list celebrities) in a message board, and I liked the cover of his book, so I bought it. A few weeks later, I just decided to check it out and see if it sucked or not. And it did not suck. It didn't suck it all. It was awesome.

He reminds me of Stephen King, but funnier. Jeff actually is a terrifically funny guy, and while I wouldn't exactly describe Jenny Pox as funny, it definitely has it moments. And it's really, really smart. It's sorta like Carrie, but honestly, I think it's a lot better. (Full disclosure: Carrie isn't in my top ten Stephen King books. Salem's Lot is, though, and I'd say Jenny Pox is right up there with that).

It also has touches of Alyson Noel Evermore, which in mind is why it felt like a YA paranormal romance. I do think Jenny Pox is definitely a paranormal romance but the YA part has been - and probably should be - disputed.

And now we come back to the * bold part. This book is not recommended for readers under 18. When Jeff wrote this book, he wasn't writing a paranormal romance or a young adult book. He was writing a horror novel. He didn't think of his audience being teenagers, so he put in some graphic content that he felt served the book best.

With that said, I think the overall storyline is fine for teenagers. When I was in high school, I was reading Stephen King and Michael Crichton, and there was things far more graphic in them, and I survived. However, as always, I suggest that parents read the books themselves and make the decisions for their children accordingly.

I'm making a big deal of pointing this out because the only negative reviews Jeff is getting on Jenny Pox are about the graphic content and how it's not a young adult book. And Jeff agrees with you. He never said it was a young adult book. I did. So it's my fault, and I'm sorry for misleading you.

Okay. Now that I've talked about it enough, here's the give away details for a signed paperback of Jenny Pox:

1. One winner will win an autographed copy of Jenny Pox.
2. The giveaway runs from today until midnight on Friday, October 31, 2011.
3. To enter: Comment below and with a way to contact you in case you win (email addresses work best).
4. Only one entry per person.
5. Winner will be chosen by Random.org.

Don't forget to snag a free Kindle version of Jenny Pox while you can and check out J. L. Bryan's super rad Paranormals Tour. Also, you can check out his website www.jlbryanbooks.com for more info his books and himself, and follow him on Twitter, because he's funny.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Light of Requim from Daniel Arenson

Daniel Arenson is the author of several books, including Firefly Island and The Gods of Dreams. His new series, Song of Dragons, is an epic fantasy chronicling the struggles of men who can turn into dragons in the kingdom of Requim. Today's post is an excerpt from an upcoming book in that series. For more information on Daniel, please visit his website at: http://danielarenson.com/
 _________________________________________________

The three boys swaggered down the streets, arms pumping, eyes daring beggars, urchins, and other survivors to stare back. The dragons had left this city; so had the nightshades. Now, in the ruins after the war, new lords arose. The Rot Gang ruled now.

"Slim pickings today," said Arms. The wiry, toothless boy was seventeen. He crossed his namesake, arms long and hairy as an ape's. "We've been searching this cesspool all morning. These streets are clean."

Teeth glowered at him. "Shut your mouth, Arms," he said. With a long, loud noise like a saw, he hawked and spat. The glob landed at Arms' feet and bubbled.

Arms glowered back, spat too, and muttered.

The third Rot Gang boy--a gangly youth named Legs--watched and smirked. Drool dripped from his heavy lips. He towered seven feet tall, most of his height in his stilt-like legs. He was dumb, even dumber than Arms, and useless in a fight. Teeth kept him around because, well, Legs made him look normal. So what if my teeth are pointed like an animal's? Around Legs, nobody notices.

"You like that, freak?" Teeth asked him. "You like me yelling at old Arms here?"

Legs guffawed, drooled, and scratched his head. He had a proper name, though Teeth didn't know it. He didn't care. Freaks didn't deserve proper names.

"Yeah I like Arms angry-like, I do," said Legs. "Makes me laugh, his little eyes, all buggy like so." He brayed laughter.

Arms turned red. His eyes did bulge when angry. He trundled toward Legs and punched, hitting him in the stomach. The lanky boy screamed. Tears welled up in his eyes. He swiped at Arms, but the wiry youth dodged the blow.

Teeth spat again. "Useless in a fight, you freak," he said to Legs. "I don't know why I keep you around. Come on, break it up! You want to eat tonight? Let's keep looking. You too, Arms. There are bodies left in this city. We'll find them. And if we can't, we'll make our own."

Legs was crying and Arms muttering. Teeth snarled, pushed them forward, and the Rot Gang kept moving down the street. Blood dripped from Leg's nose, leaving a trail of red dots behind them.

Confutatis lay in ruins. Fallen bricks, shattered statues, and broken arrows covered the city. The nightshades had done their work well; the dragons had finished it. You could go days without seeing a soldier, priest, or guard, but you always saw urchins. They huddled behind smashed statues, inside makeshift hovels, or simply under tattered blankets. When they saw the Rot Gang, they cowered and hid. Teeth smirked as he swaggered by the poor souls. On the first week after the dragons, when survivors were claiming their pockets of ruin, many children had challenged him, adults too. His sharpened teeth had bitten, severing fingers, ears, noses. One boy, he remembered, had tried to steal a chicken from him; Teeth had bashed his head with a rock, again and again, until he saw brains spill. The memory boiled his blood and stirred his loins. He missed killing.

Legs guffawed and pointed. "Hey boss, look here, you see them, little ones, hey." He snickered and wiped his nose, smearing blood and mucus across his face.

Teeth stared. He saw them. A gaggle of urchins--little girls. They hid behind a fallen statue of Dies Irae. One cradled a dog in her arms. When they saw the Rot Gang, the girls froze. Then they began to flee.

"Catch them," Teeth commanded.

Arms and Legs shot out, the former lumbering like an ape, the latter quick as a horse. Teeth stood and watched. Three girls disappeared into a maze of fallen columns. Arms hit another with a rock, knocking her down. Legs grabbed the girl with the dog.

"Bring her here," Teeth said.

The girl was kicking and screaming, but Legs held her tight. Arms approached with his own catch. He held his girl in his arms; she was unconscious, maybe dead.

"Let go, help, help!" The girl in Legs' grasp was panting, face red. Her dog quivered in her grasp.

Teeth stepped forward. He snatched the dog from the girl. He clutched it by the neck, squeezed, and held it out.

"You want your dog back, you little whore?" he said. His blood boiled. A smile twisted his lips. The mutt was squirming and squealing, but powerless to escape.

The girl nodded. "Give him back. Let go!"

Teeth slammed the dog against the ground. It whimpered. Teeth kicked it hard, and it flew toward Arms. The apelike boy laughed, and kicked it back, and blood splattered the cobblestones.

"Kick dog!" Legs said. "Kick dog, I want to play it."

The girl screamed and wept as they played. Finally Teeth grew bored. The dog was no longer squealing, and the game was no longer fun.

"Enough," he said. "We've come seeking bodies, not whiny little whores. Legs, let her go."

The gangly boy dropped the girl. Her knees hit the cobblestones, spilling blood, but she seemed not to notice. She raced forward, lifted her dead dog, and cradled it.

Teeth laughed. "You idiot. The damn thing's dead. What kind of freak wants a dead dog for a pet?" He scratched his chin. "I wonder if Irae would pay for a dead dog."

Arms shook his head. "Nah. No way. You know Blood Wolves?"

Teeth glared at him. "You know I do. You know I hate Blood Wolves. You calling me an idiot, Arms? If that's what you're doing, I'll play some Kick Arms, and have a nice body to sell."

Legs laughed, spraying saliva. "Kick Arms, Kick Arms, I like to play it."

Arms picked his nose. "I ain't calling you nothing. Cool it, Teeth. But Blood Wolves, you see, they've been bringing dead dogs, and horses, and what not. I hear the soldiers speak of it. Even brought a whole dead griffin, they did, Sun God knows how they dragged it. Worth coppers at best, the dogs. A griffin might fetch gold, maybe, but not dogs and horses and all that rubbish. He needs limbs most, human limbs. Heads too. Men, you know. With brains and what not. That's how you make mimics, not dogs." He snatched the dead dog from the girl and tossed it. It flew over a pile of bricks, and the girl ran weeping to find it.

Teeth knew that Arms was right. Sometimes he saw mimics with animal parts--a horse's hoof here, a dog's head there--but they were rare. Human bodies were what the Rot Gang specialized in, but pickings were slim lately, other gangs were growing, and their pockets were light. Teeth knew it was a matter of time before they'd have to stop hunting bodies, and start making bodies. He didn't like to think about that. Not with the Blood Wolves around, a hundred grown men with daggers and clubs, and him with an apelike oaf and a skinny giant who'd piss themselves in a fight sooner than kill a man.

"All right, let's go, north quarter today. Lots of ruins there. Bodies underneath them, rotting maybe, but they'll still fetch some coin, good bronze too."

They continued through the winding streets, passing by fallen forts, crushed hovels, and cracked statues of Dies Irae. Old blood stained the cobblestones. The ash of nightshades, and the fire of dragons, had blackened the ruins. Teeth remembered the battle, not a moon ago. The five dragons had swooped upon the city, blowing fire. Benedictus the Black had led them, and he led griffins too. Nightshades had fought them, and Teeth had never seen so much fire and blood; it rained from the sky. The next day, as men lay rotting in the streets, Teeth had begun to collect.

Finally they reached the smaller, northern quarters, where there were barely streets anymore, merely piles of bricks and wood.

"Dig," Teeth barked at the other boys.

They climbed onto the piles of debris and began rummaging. Wind moaned around them, smelling of rot. Teeth cursed as he worked. If there were no bodies left in the city, there was no money either. He'd have to escape into the countryside like so many others.

I could become an outlaw... live in the forests, hunt travellers, grab plump peasant girls when I can find them. That didn't sound too bad, but Teeth knew little about the forest; he had spent his life on these streets.

I could join the Earthen too, if they're real, he thought. Folks whispered about the Earthen sometimes--wild Earth God followers who lived in caves. Some said they were building weapons, preparing for a strike against Dies Irae, the man who had toppled their temples and banned their faith. But Teeth didn't care much for gods or holy wars, no more than he cared for the wilderness. This city is a cesspool, but it's all I know.

The smell of decay hit his nostrils with a burst, so strong he nearly fell over. Teeth spat, dizzy. He pulled aside two bricks and saw a rotting head. He pulled it up by the hair; it came loose from its body. The head was pulsing with maggots, so bloated it looked like a leather sack. Arms tossed it aside in disgust, and it burst.

"Bah! These bodies are useless now." He clenched his fists. "They're too old, too swollen, no good for anyone anymore. How would Irae sew these together? You just look at them, and they fall apart. Nothing left of them but rot."

Behind him, Arms brayed a laugh. "I tolds you, Teeth. I tolds you. We need to bring animals, dogs and what not, and those little girls maybe, they have teeth that can bite."

Teeth growled. He marched across the pile of bricks and grabbed Arms' collar. "Dogs? Little girls? I want silver, Arms. Gold if we can get it. Not copper pennies. I'm not a beggar like the Blood Wolves."

Arms stared, eyes burning. "I should join the Blood Wolves, I should. Look at you. This is your gang? A group of freaks. You with your dog teeth, and Legs with those stilts of his. It's pathetic, it is."

Legs guffawed and drooled. "Dog teeth, dog teeth! I like to see them."

Teeth growled, drew a knife from his belt, and held it at Arms' throat. Arms stiffened, and his eyes shot daggers.

"You don't like it here?" Teeth hissed. His stomach churned, and rage nearly blinded him. He hands shook, and his heart pounded. "You want to join the Blood Wolves?"

Arms snarled, the knife at his neck.

"Yes," he hissed.

Teeth swiped the knife across his throat. Blood sprayed in a curtain. For an instant, Arms seemed not to notice. He merely stared, eyes narrowed. Then he grabbed his throat, trying in vain to stop the blood. He fell to his knees, and suddenly he was weeping, and trying to speak, trying to breathe, but he could do neither.

Teeth stared down at him. "There's your blood, Arms. Blood's what you wanted. Blood's what you got. And I got my body. A body with nice long arms."

He could have given Arms a better death. He could have finished the job--stabbed him in the heart, or bashed in his head. But Teeth wanted to watch. He stood over the thrashing boy, until Arms merely twitched, stared up with pleading eyes, then gurgled and lay limp. For several moments he merely whimpered and his eyelids fluttered. And then Teeth had his body for the day.

The wind moaned as Teeth and Legs carried the body through the rubble. It cut through Teeth's clothes and pierced his skin. The blood was sticky on his fingers. The sun was setting when they saw Flammis Palace ahead. Two of its towers had collapsed, and several walls had crumbled. It wasn't much better off than the rest of the city, but Dies Irae still ruled there. His banners, white and gold, thudded atop the remaining towers. His guards covered the standing walls, bows in hands.

Teeth and Legs approached the front gates. The bricks were blackened from fire, and the doors turned to charcoal. The dragons had breathed most of their fire here when storming the palace. Guards stood outside the charred doors, clad in plate armor, swords in hands. Their skin looked sallow, and sacks hung beneath their bloodshot eyes. There wasn't much food in Confutatis anymore, and folk whispered that some of the guards had taken to eating the bodies. The stench of rot hung heavy here.

"New body for the Commander," Teeth told the guards. "Fresh, this one."

Legs nodded, holding Arms' other end. "Fresh, fresh! We like them that way. Yes sir we do."

The guards grunted. "All right, boys. Looks better than your last catch. In you go."

Teeth tugged the body, moving past the broken doors. Legs followed. They stepped into a hallway, its northern wall fallen. Bloodstains covered the floor. Ash covered the ceiling. One column was smashed and stained with old blood. Teeth knew the way. Hoisting the body, he turned left into a stairwell. The stairs wound into shadows. Torches lined the walls, but most were unlit. Teeth and Legs delved into the dungeons of Flammis Palace, the stairway leading them down and down into the cold and darkness. The palace was twice as deep as it was tall, and Teeth climbed down to its deepest chambers.

Screams, creaks, and squeals echoed through the tunnels. A man laughed. A saw grinded. Screeches rose and fell.

Teeth and Legs walked down a hallway, its floor sticky with blood, and entered a towering chamber. Torches lined the walls, flickering against rows of tables. Body parts covered the tabletops. Rows of legs covered one table, arms another, heads a third. A pile of torsos rotted in the corner. Uncarved bodies hung on walls and filled wheelbarrows.

Dies Irae stood at the back of the room.

Teeth froze. On previous visits, he had met underlings, not the Commander himself. He had not expected to meet Dies Irae here. Once emperor of a mighty realm, today Dies Irae ruled a pile of desolation, death, and disease. His skin was grey. Blood stained his clothes. He stood by a table where lay a torso. Sleeves rolled back, he was gutting it.

Teeth cleared his throat, blinked, and tried to quell the shake that found his knees.

"Commander," he said. "We brought you a body. A fresh one, my lord."

Legs brayed. "Fresh, fresh, that's how we like them, yes sir we do."

Dies Irae looked up from his work. His one eye blazed blue. A patch covered his other eye. Teeth knew the story. Benedictus the weredragon had taken that eye from him, as he had taken Dies Irae's left arm; a steel arm grew there now, its fist a spiked mace head.

"A fresh one?" Dies Irae asked. His voice was hoarse. Wrinkles creased his brow. "Yes. Yes, very fresh."

Teeth and Legs placed the body on a table. Teeth stifled a cough, struggling not to gag from the chamber's stench. Maggots were crawling on some of the bodies. Worms filled others.

"A fresh body, and look at its arms," Teeth said. "Look at how long they are, my lord. Long and strong, like an ape's. This one's worth two silver coins, one per arm at least, my lord. A good body. Strong and fresh."

Dies Irae examined the dead body, furrowed his brow, and touched those long arms. He smiled, his lips twisting like worms. "Yes. Yes, strong. Fresh."

Teeth didn't like this. He wanted to leave. On previous visits, underlings would examine his finds, mutter, and pay. But Dies Irae seemed... too quiet, lost in his own worlds. Teeth noticed that specks of blood covered the man's lips. He shivered. Had Dies Irae been eating the bodies?

"My lord?" he said. There were bite marks on the body, he saw. Now Teeth definitely wanted to flee. "My lord, two silvers would be our price, if it please you. We'll find you more bodies. We're the Rot Gang."

Dies Irae walked around the table and approached him. He was tall, Teeth saw. Not as tall as Legs, maybe, but heavier, all muscle and grit. Dies Irae stared at him with his good eye.

"Those are good teeth you have there," he said. He licked his lips, smearing blood across them. "Sharp. I bet they can just... bite into somebody." He snapped his own teeth, as if to demonstrate. "I could use teeth like that."

Beside them, Legs guffawed. "Dog teeth, dog teeth, I like to see them. Yes sir I do."

Dies Irae turned to face him, as if seeing Legs for the first time. "Well, young man, aren't you a tall one. Look at those legs you've got there. I bet they could just..." Dies Irae stamped his feet. "Run! Run like the wind, I bet they can."

Legs brayed. "They run, Legs they call me, yes sir they do."

Teeth didn't like this. Suddenly he didn't care about the coins any more.

"My lord, if you'll excuse us, we'll be on our way," he said. He turned to face the doorway.

A mimic stood there. Not a dead body, but an animated thing, patched together, sewn from the strongest parts. A creature with worms for hair, claws on its fingers, and death in its eyes. It blocked the doorway, grinning. Insects bustled in its mouth, and its eyes blazed red.

"They are strong," Dies Irae said. "They are made from the best. The best parts. I build them myself."

He swung his mace at Legs.

It hit the boy's head, crushing it.

As Legs collapsed, Teeth ran to the wall and grabbed a torch. He held it before him as a weapon.

"Don't touch me, old man!" he warned, waving the torch.

Dies Irae's lips curled back; Teeth couldn't decide if it was a snarl or a grin.

"But I will touch you," he said. "I will make you stronger. I will give you the right parts."

Teeth lashed his torch.

Dies Irae sidestepped.

The mace swung.

Pain exploded against Teeth's chest. The mace swung and again hit his chest. His ribs snapped. He couldn't breathe. Blood filled his mouth.

He fell to his knees. The last thing he saw was Dies Irae grinning, and the mace swung again.

Light exploded. Blood and pain flowed across him. He knew nothing more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hollowland Giveaway!

In anticipation of the release of Hollowmen (The Hollows, #2) (which is currently with the editor and should be out sometime within the next few weeks, barring a nuclear holocaust or a zombie apocalypse), I'm going to be giving away THREE signed paperbacks of Hollowland (The Hollows, #1)



"This is the way the world ends; not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door."

Nineteen-year-old Remy King is on a mission to get across the wasteland left of America, and nothing will stand in her way - not violent marauders, a spoiled rock star, or an army of flesh-eating zombies.  









 Here's the details about the giveaway itself:
1. There will be three winners, with each person receiving one signed paperback of Hollowland.
2. The giveaway runs from today until midnight on Friday, October 31, 2011.
3. To enter: Comment below and with a way to contact you in case you win (email addresses work best).
4. Only one entry per person.
5. Winner will be chosen by Random.org.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Was Once... from David Dalglish

Today we're treated with a short story from David Dalglish, author of the Half-Orcs series and Shadowdance Trilogy. For more information on David, please visit his website at ddalglish.com
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I Was Once...

My first sensation was of the earth, cold and loose, as I dug my way toward the surface. My thoughts were chaotic fragments of images, without names or meaning. I felt my fingernails peel back, felt rocks rip into my flesh. No pain.

Why was there no pain?

Oh god.
I wasn’t breathing. Dirt caked against my lips and nostrils, but it didn’t matter. No fire burned in my lungs. I didn’t even have to fight the impulse. My frantic clawing increased, and I felt memories hanging like monsters in the distance, threatening to overwhelm me. When my fist punched into open air, I might have cried if I had any tears left in my eyes. Thrashing, clawing, I emerged. My eyes were open, but I saw little, just darkness, and a man. Impulses filled me, a feral anger that directed me toward him, this shapeless shadow.

Something slipped around my neck. Awareness struck me hard enough I thought I might fall backward. I didn’t, though. I only stood there, my mouth hanging open, my arms stiff at my sides. My vision improved, and in the sudden stillness I took in my surroundings. The night was dark, clouds blotting out the stars. Candles surrounded me, creating a blasphemous formation that filled my stomach with fire upon seeing it. All around me were tombstones, but I could not read the letters. And towering over me was the man.

He was tall, pale of skin, with his long hair falling down past his shoulders. He wore a strange robe, but underneath I caught site of simple jeans. Various amulets and trinkets hung from leather straps about his neck. I keenly remembered wanting to hurt him, but the impulse was gone. Nothing about him was familiar, but he seemed to know me.

“Welcome back, Jessie,” he said, and his thin lips spread into a grin.

Jessie?

I looked down at myself. I wore what might have once been a pretty dress, though it was wrinkled and dirty now. As for its color, I couldn’t tell. Colors seemed strange to me. It’d torn during my climb, exposing bare, gray flesh. Upon my chest I saw two breasts, purple, thin, and sagging, but breasts nonetheless. Between them hung a red crystal, like many of the trinkets master wore. Long, stringy hair cascading down past my face. My hair.

I was a woman, and my name was Jessie. That was all I knew.

“Kneel,” said the stranger.



My body acted on its own, without hesitation. I fell to my knees. With strange detachment, I watched my flesh rip away as I scraped against a stone, exposing the bony white kneecap beneath. No pain, only sensations. I was getting better at recognizing them, realizing what they were. I tried to ignore the squirming sensations deep inside me, fearing I knew what they were. At some point they’d burrow their way free, eat through my eyeballs, and fill my lungs with eggs. But not yet.

Two more things I knew, then. I’d been buried recently, and this man was not just a man, but my master.

“That bitch still won’t let me touch her,” said my master as he patted his robe, looking for something. He pulled out a picture from the pocket of his jeans and held it before me.

“Recognize her, Jessie?” he asked.

I tried to answer, but my jaw refused to cooperate. My tongue squirmed inside my mouth like it was an alien thing. My response came out as a guttural moan, indecipherable even to me.

“Just nod or shake your head,” said my master. “I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Now do you recognize her?”

It took a moment of concentration, but the muscles in my neck finally relented. My head swung side to side, jerky, over exaggerated movements, but they were the best I could do.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Don’t matter none. Look at the picture. Look closely. Her name is Liz. You know where she lives, don’t you?”

I did. I couldn’t answer how, or why, but as I stared at the picture, and felt the candles burning about me, I knew I could find her with my eyes closed. She burned like a beacon in the distance, a cold brightness overwhelming the rest of the world’s muted grays. Like I said, colors were strange now.

“I asked you a question,” he said. My head flung all the way back, then slammed forward. Wasn’t me this time. I’d had no choice in the matter. He seemed pleased. I might have felt revulsion at the sick grin on his face, but compared to the sick sloshing in my abdomen, of my intestines swimming in formaldehyde, it was only a mild irritation.

“Go get her,” my master said. “Tear her throat out, then return here. I’ll be waiting.”

I let out another guttural moan. My waist twisted, and I felt my muscles tearing. They didn’t want to move, everything was so stiff. I had no choice, though, no choice. Master wanted Liz killed, and so I would. My upper half facing the right way, my legs shifted to follow. Soft popping noises came from my joints as I shuffled about. My movements gained a bit of gracefulness, so to speak. The stiffness was leaving me, step by step.

“Go get her,” my master said again, and it urged me on. Liz. Find Liz. Kill her. Tear out her throat. Imagining her blood welling across my tongue filled me with a shocking hunger. Deep in my belly, I felt the ache, the yearning to consume something still bleeding. Still overwhelmed with emotions. Still alive.

Master must have woken me in the deepest part of night, the streets were so quiet. The graveyard I left was small, almost cozily surrounded by long roads decorated with cute houses. I tried reading one of the road signs, but the letters were jumbled, and made no sense. It was as if they were written in a language I could no longer read. I didn’t need the signs though, only tried using them as a way of pretending humanity. That distant light, that certainty of direction, made me uneasy. It wasn’t natural for me to know where she was, to know she slept on her bed in a little one bedroom half of a duplex.

Of course, the only thing natural about me was the way the worms were slowly working their way through my intestines, shitting in my dry veins, and eating their way through the last remnants of my soft tissue. I could even feel them squirming behind my eyeballs. Their soft bites into the back of my retinas were...uncomfortable. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t have to. Knowing what it was, that they were there, was a million times worse. I felt it all. Every nibble. Every sliding movement. I had a few beetles too, for nothing compared to the skittering of their legs down my windpipe.

I walked down the center of the street, the movement of my legs coming easily now. Liz wasn’t far, and for that I was thankful. Once she was gone, I would be free. I wasn’t sure how I knew this, but I did. She was why I had returned. Her, and master. Once I pleased master, he’d let me go, let me sink back into the abyss he’d yanked me out of. I tried to think of the beyond he’d taken me from, but I couldn’t. Just like my memories, my past, it was a solid blankness without any give. Heaven or Hell, it didn’t matter. Both had to be better than this. The flies had found me now, and I could not swat them away.

Liz shone like the sun in my mind, she was so close. As I approached her door, I stopped. My mind was working, and it was pleasant to have something else to think about than my multitude of sensations. Could I break through the door? Or should I use a window? She could outrun me, I knew. That meant any warning was bad. I couldn’t smash through a window, nor wail on the door until it gave. What to do?

Staring at the door, I tilted my head to one side, then reached out my hand. The doorknob was smooth, and when I gripped it, I felt my flesh start to slip off the bones of my fingers. I turned it, but it was locked. To the window I went, which had a row of tall bushes in front. Their branches scratched open pustules of my skin. Looking inside, I saw an empty living room. Good. Grabbing the window, I lifted. It might have been hard, but what did a little tearing of muscle matter to me anymore? The lock on the window was old, and it hadn’t been shut fully, only barely catching the side. With a creak, it opened.

I climbed inside.

My landing on her carpet was far from graceful. I hit head first, then rolled onto my back. My scalp shifted, and my hair slid lower, as if I’d messed up a bad wig. Cool air blew across my exposed skull. The feeling was good, except when the flies followed me in and landed atop it.

Liz, I thought. I know where you are, Liz.

Slowly I rose to my feet. My roll had torn open the flesh of my back, and I felt something wet slide down my legs. Pieces of me fell out my dress and to the carpet. I didn’t notice, much. At Liz’s door, I once more grabbed the knob and twisted. It gave, and I pushed it open.

I must have made a noise, for I felt a rumble in my throat. Perhaps I was too excited to be there. I was overwhelmed by her brightness, by the comforting fact that master wanted this, would be happy at my accomplishment. Liz sat up in her bed, and the poor girl’s mouth dropped open at sight of me. It took her a full second before she screamed. It probably took her that long to believe what her eyes saw.

“Oh god, help!” she shrieked.

I took a step closer, and my arms reached for her throat. Master had been very specific.

“Get away!”

Liz flung a pillow at me, then rolled off the opposite side of the bed. I blocked the door, though, and her windows were too small for her to escape through, not in time. Another step, and another, my hands always reaching. I moaned, feeling something akin to pleasure, as my hand brushed her arm. Liz batted me away, but now the stiffness of my joints was working for me. We were about the same size, but she couldn’t shove me, couldn’t overpower me. I was the stronger.

She grabbed a lamp and swung. It hit me in the stomach, and I lost my balance. Teetering forward, my mouth opened, and streams of fluids gushed down my lips and chin. Some of it splashed across Liz’s nightie, and this amused me. I lashed out, catching her wrist as she tried to run past me. She yanked and pulled, but I would not relent. My fingers would not open. Her desperation grew as I pulled her closer. Tear out her throat, master’s words echoed in my head. Tear it out.

He didn’t say how, and I still had most of my teeth.

Liz thrashed and screeched, her hands raking across my body, tearing rotted flesh and spilling worms across her floor. It wouldn’t matter. Nothing could stop me.

And then her arm caught on the leather strap holding the red crystal between my breasts. It tore, and as it fell to the ground, I froze. Memories assaulted me, terrible in their strength. I still held onto Liz, but out of instinct, nothing more. My hunger remained, but the light surrounding her was gone. I opened and closed my mouth as Liz sobbed uncontrollably.

I knew who I was.

I let her go, and she ran. It didn’t bother me. Her name was Liz. She was master’s infatuation, but unlike me, she’d been smart enough to refuse his advances, to know what lurked beneath that charming grin of his.

My lumbering gait took me back to the graveyard, and I knew I’d be far enough away before any police or ambulance arrived. Master was waiting for me, but I knew his name now. He wasn’t master, oh no. He was just Harold.

“Did you kill her?” he asked as I neared. I let out a moan, pushing the soupy air from my lungs into my vocal chords. He frowned. I saw his eyes drop to my chest, saw the horror hit him as he realized the crystal was no longer there. Too late, though. I had his arms, had him in an embrace we had shared for many, many years.

I inhaled again, forcing my hollow lungs to cooperate.

“Hello...husband,” I told him.

I kissed his lips, felt his scream breathe into me. My teeth closed around his tongue, and I bit. Blood dripped down my throat, and I moaned again. I was hungry. So hungry.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Love Story

This isn't part of Zombiepalooza, but it's something I wanted to say. This blog isn't meant to be a rant. I'm not writing from an angry place. And it's not a direct reaction to anything. It's just something I've wanted to say for awhile, and I'm finally frustrated  enough to say something.

Here it is: I didn't sell a million books by selling a million books.

What I mean by that is everybody keeps talking about  how many books I sold and the "phenomenon."I spend more time during interviews talking about sales than I do my actual books. There are so many blogs and tweets and all that talk about numbers and not writing.

The number one question I get is: How did you sell so many books?

Here's the secret: I wrote a book that many people enjoyed.

I did not say I wrote the best book ever written. I did not say that everybody loved it, because some people who read it really hated it. What I did say is that many of the people who read it, liked it. And the people who liked it went on to tell their friends, to blog about it, to tweet about it. People who read it based on friends recommendations went on to like it, and then went on to tell their friends. (And I am so, so grateful to each and every one of those people).

Terri the screenwriter who is adapting Switched, and my current editor at St. Martin's Rose both approached me/agent in early January, before I released Ascend, before I made the USA Today Bestseller list, before I became a story about the numbers I sold.

Both of them found Switched on their own and liked it so much that they wanted to do something with it. Long before I sold a million books.

What I'm trying to say is that in the story about me and my "phenomenal" sales, the part that seems to always get overlooked is the actual books.

It may have been luck that Terri and Rose read Switched, but it wasn't luck that they liked it. It wasn't the $.99 price-tag that compelled them to approach me and Steve. It wasn't even the "inspirational" story about me self-publishing. It wasn't the book cover, either. It was the book.

You may hate my book and think it's total crap. But to ignore the fact that so many people did like it is to deny a major part of this story.

In the end, after all the ways people try to spin my story, it's really just a love story. I loved writing, I wrote a story I loved, readers fell in love with the same characters I did, and I love my readers. That's all there is to it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Old-Fashioned Zombies (and New-Fangled Ones)


Today’s Zombiepalooza post comes from J.L. Bryan, author of The Paranormals trilogy (Jenny Pox, Tommy Nightmare, and Alexander Death) and other novels.  Fairy Metal Thunder is the first book in his new Songs of Magic series.  On Monday (October 17), he begins The Paranormals Blog Tour, where you can win a Kindle Fire, Jenny Pox-themed jewelry, autographed books and more. Watch for a Zombiepalooza giveaway of Jenny Pox, too, later this month.
________________________________________________

Old-Fashioned Zombies (and New-Fangled Ones)

First, a word from today’s sponsor:

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This is a paid advertisement for legal services by Gerr & Arj, LLP.

***

I want to thank Mandy for inviting me back for Zombiepalooza II!  I don’t know if anyone actually calls her “Mandy.” I’m just doing that thing where D-list celebrities refer to A-list celebrities by unusual nicknames. (“So, I was having lunch with Tony Hopkins and Marty Scorsese the other day...”) I’ve always wanted to do that.

Which brings us right to tonight’s topic: Old-fashioned zombies versus new-fangled zombies: who would win in a fight? (This topic is totally different from my “slow versus fast zombies” guest post last year.)

This is an obvious subject to me because my Paranormals trilogy has some old-fashioned zombies.  By old-fashioned, I mean the traditional legends you would find in Haiti.  A zombie master turns people into zombies, raising them from the dead, usually for some manual labor drudgery, like working a plantation (an obvious metaphor for slavery, of course). In the first zombie movie, White Zombie, the zombie master uses zombie labor in his mill.

Those zombies lost a cultural-evolutionary rat race to the teeming apocalyptic zombie horde.  The George Romero-style zombie took over the world and ate its brains.  Amanda’s Hollowland and Hollowmen feature zombie hordes that behave in this very inconsiderate manner. 

So I thought it would be fun to build a stadium, pit a horde of my zombies against a horde of Amanda’s zombies in a colossal public exhibition, and give out free balloons.  Because balloons are nice.  But apparently we don’t have the budget to do that for this blog post, especially once you add in the balloon and helium costs, so we’ll just imagine what might happen.

At first, my zombies would seem to have the advantage.  There is a central mind, the zombie master, directing their actions. On top of that, my zombies can use simple tools, like shovels, picks, and AK-47s.  This organization and tool-slinging ability puts them ahead of the brainless brain-eaters.

However, we know how this story ends.  The hungry swarm always wins.  They inherit the Earth, and no amount of tools or human intelligence can hope to stop them.  Because, in the end, when you only have one goal, and that goal is eating brains, a goal which turns others into zombies like you...there’s just nothing that beats that level of persistence, dedication, and single-minded fixation. 

Live humans get distracted with thoughts, feelings, and other blah.  Zombie masters are only human, and so zombie-master-controlled zombies just don’t have the same intensity of focus as the feeding horde.  They can lose purpose and topple over if the zombie master is feeling depressed, sleepy, or dead.  And that’s when they get eaten by the swarms of other zombies, who are just hungry, and not subject to remote psychic control.

And that’s how the new swarming zombies beat out the old-fashioned kind.

I still wish we could have had that big zombie fight in the stadium, though.  Maybe next Zombiepalooza.
 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One of Four from David McAfee


I actually posted this story in the last in last year's Zombiepalooza, but I liked it so much, I asked David McAfee if I could post again. It's a really fantastic story, and I wanted you all to enjoy it. 

 David McAfee is the author of 33 A.D. and Grubs, a novella that gave me nightmares. For more info about him or his books, please check out his site: mcafeeland.wordpress.com

One of Four - along with fifteen other stories - is included in McAfee's horror anthology, Pound of Flash. It also has bonus material from David Dalglish, Daniel Arenson, and Michael Crane.
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“You know who I am, Father.” It isn’t a question.

The priest looks at me, his youthful eyes brimming with idealistic forgiveness, and nods.

“I know who you claim to be,” he says as he steps past the nurse – a burly bitch named Swanson - and starts to close the door behind him.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Swanson says, holding up her left hand. She casts a meaningful glance at her missing ring finger. The scar is an angry red. “He’s a vicious old bastard.”

Her diamond ring had hurt like hell when it passed through my bowels, but the look on her face had been worth it. Maybe I wouldn’t do shit like that if they’d give me something to eat.

The priest ignores her missing finger. “He won’t harm me,” he says. “He can’t.” With that, he closes the door, while Swanson shakes her head and resumes her duties.

I can’t keep the snarl out of my voice. “Damn right I can’t.” I jerk forward in the bed, but the straps around my bare, sunken chest and arms hold me in place. I know it’s useless. I’ve been trying to break them for years now with nothing to show for it but raw, bleeding skin. They are too strong, especially in my pathetic state. They never feed me in this place, preferring to keep me weak and pliable.

He takes a seat by my bed, his soft white robe settles around him as though it’s made of air. On his finger a hefty gold ring winks in the dim light of my cell. I catch a faint whiff of cologne. I can’t place the brand, but it smells expensive. It probably is. The Catholic Church looks after its own.

I smile, revealing a mouth full of sharpened teeth. I had them filed to points long before the priest was even born. In my emaciated state, I must look like a fleshy skull smiling at him. He blanches, but doesn’t look away.

“They told me about those,” he says. “Do you think you frighten me?”

“Don’t I?”

He shakes his head, then reaches into a pouch at his side. He pulls out a vial of water and a rosary and sets them both on the nightstand. “Are you ready?”

I chuckle. A thick, wet gurgle. It’s all I can manage. “You can’t exorcise me, Father. I’m not a demon.” My belly growls. In the confines of the tiny room it sounds like an angry bear.

“We will see.” He pulls the stopper from the vial and begins to pray. I can’t understand a word of it. Must be Latin. He makes a motion with the vial that looks like a cross, then splashes the water on my face and chest. It’s cold, but that’s it. My skin doesn’t boil or blister, and I don’t scream.

He looks closer, his expression slightly puzzled. Then he reaches down and dips his finger into one of the drops on my chest, swirling it around in a circle.

“Careful, Father,” I say. My belly rumbles again, accentuating my warning.

His eyes shoot from my chest to my face, his disbelief plain to see. His finger raises off my flesh and hovers a few inches away. Almost close enough to bite, but not quite. He is probably thinking of Swanson’s scar.

“It’s true, then,” he whispers.

I nod. “But you already knew that.”

He looks at the vial in his hand. “I had to be sure.”

I nod again. “Of course.”

“We’ve been waiting for you.” His words are slow, deliberate. The fear that escaped him earlier now weighs heavily on every syllable. “How long do we have?”

I shake my head. “You should have come to me sooner.”

“We didn’t know.”

“Yes, you did.”

He closes his eyes and turns away, his face red. Maybe he didn’t know, but his colleagues did. They had plenty of time to fix things, and instead they went on as they always had. Only now, when it’s too late, do they think of me, locked away in their prison. Had they come to me sooner, I could have saved them. Any of my brethren could. But we waited. We wanted to see what they would do.

Now we know.

The earth begins to shake beneath us. His eyes snap open.

“Are the others here, already?” he asks.

“Not yet, but they are coming.”

He nods, tears sparkling in his eyes. He clutches his Bible and his rosary to his chest, and again begins praying in Latin. The only word I recognize is famÄ“s, and only because it’s my name. A few moments later the roof of the building crashes down on him. The weight of the rubble snaps my bonds, and I am able to rise on shaky legs.

I leave the room and walk through the hallways, listening to the screams of people dying around me. Swanson is buried under a pile of debris. Her unblinking eyes stare up toward the ceiling.

The others are indeed coming, just as I told the priest. They have quite a distance to travel, of course. Currently, War is in the Middle East, Pestilence is in Africa, and Death...Death is everywhere.

I step out of the ruined building and look back just as the front, a huge brick and marble facade that sports a gleaming bronze Crucifix, tumbles to the earth. The Crucifix lands on a woman in a black and white habit, who sees me standing nearby and begs for mercy in Portuguese.

Too late, I remind myself.

I raise my thin, bony arms to the sky, waiting for instructions. They are not long in coming.

My name is Famine, and it’s time to go to work.